Social movements, political goals, and the May 1 marches

Social movements, political goals, and the May 1 marches: Communicating protest in polysemous media environments

Louisa Edgerly, Amoshaun Toft, & Mary Lynn Veden

This discourse analysis of audience reception examined journalistic response to the May 1, 2006, immigrants’ rights protests in mainstream newspapers, niche news and opinion outlets in the United States. The organizers of the protests faced a particular rhetorical challenge: to craft a message that would be well received by both hostile and friendly audiences. In addition to attracting significant media coverage, the actions sparked both celebration and criticism in public commentary. Three key themes were identified based on primary texts from protest organizers and existing research on media coverage of political protest: economy; policy/rights; and law/order. Linguistic representations of these themes were constructed and keywords were searched across a corpus of newspaper front pages and television transcripts to identify general trends. These trends were then analyzed at the level of sentence and utterance. Our findings illustrate the particular challenges of polysemy for social movements that seek to use mass media to advance their political goals in an increasingly fragmented media environment, as well as the persistence of some aspects of the “protest paradigm” in media coverage.

Edgerly, L., Toft, A., & Veden, M. L. (2011). Social movements, political goals, and the May 1 marches: Communicating protest in polysemic media environments. International Journal of Press/Politics, 16(3), 314-334. (personal copy)

Keywords: social movements, political protest, polysemy, audience reception

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